I have seen the enemy

Earlier this week, I attended a Board dinner for one of my investments. The Board dinner is always one of my favorite parts of the Board meeting ritual. If you are an emerging growth player and have a formal Board, whether venture-backed or not, you should have Board dinners.

I say they are one of my favorite parts of the Board meeting ritual not because they are fun (although I do enjoy them), but because everyone has their guard down, no paperwork or numbers in front of them and has the ability to think free-form about where the business is and where it needs to go.

And this particular Board dinner was particularly engaging and effective. Everyone around the table was in a “growth” mindset, focused on what it is going to take to get to the next major level. When we started to fall into a backward looking trap, a seasoned hand at the table re-framed the discussion in way that I thought was magic. He asked everyone in the group to perform a thought exercise.

Imagine yourself two years out, you are wildly successful. Looking back to today, what did you know two years prior that should have told you you were going to be wildly successful. Now imagine yourself two years out and you have failed. Looking back to today, what did you know two years prior that should have told you you were going to fail.

He let us chew on this for a few minutes and some great discussion ensued. We talked about what we were doing right and how we could do more of it. We talked about breakthrough opportunities that could fundamentally alter the trajectory of the business for the better. And we talked about the key risks and how we could mitigate them. This is what Board dinners and Board meetings should be all about. We weren’t focused on numbers, on what had happened the prior month, on what revenue was going to be the next month, but rather on the big picture of how we build a world class business through a course of well executed and timed strategic and tactical maneuvers.

After ruminating through the exercise, he put a cap on it, letting us into to what he had done. He said something to this effect:

The enemy is incrementalism.

I couldn’t agree more; incrementalism is the enemy of breakthrough growth. For the course of the dinner and the board meeting the next day, he had helped to break the grip of incrementalism on the discussion. Avoid it like the plague and don’t let your Board fall into the trap. Your Board can’t help you if they are looking backward all the time.

The mental exercise my colleague on the Board put us through was a particularly thoughtful way to break the grip. Well done!

I have seen the enemy